Movie Review: Rules Don’t Apply

Set in late 1950s Los Angeles, Rules Don’t Apply is a fictional portrait of Howard Hughes in his later years. Wearing two hats—director and actor—Warren Beatty skillfully captures the eccentricities, OCD habits, and neurosis of the reclusive billionaire.

Appearing primarily in shadows, Hughes interacts with a revolving door of characters played by several A-list actors, among them Matthew Broderick, Martin Sheen, Alec Baldwin, and Candice Bergen.

The main plot involves a fictional love triangle with aspiring actress Marla Mabrey (Lily Collins), chauffeur Frank Forbes (Alen Ehrenreich), and Howard Hughes. Several comedic scenes with Marla’s mother (Annette Bening) highlight the frustration experienced by the more than thirty young women who are anxiously awaiting their screen tests and first encounters with Howard Hughes.

Ignoring the rule that chauffeurs cannot have relationships with the actresses, Marla and Frank flirt and gravitate toward each other. But when Marla finally meets Hughes for his-and-hers TV dinners on folding trays, she becomes infatuated with him. And, in his weird, unconventional way, Hughes also shows interest. Complications ensue, and Marla disappears from the movie for a significant period of time. I would have liked more scenes with Marla and her mother.

At times, the movie rambles, veering in several directions. While some scenes—especially those involving intense cravings for banana nut ice cream and bizarre flights manned by Hughes—are comedic, others only skim the surface of the billionaire’s business problems and accusations of dementia by an unauthorized biographer.

An entertaining movie that has piqued my interest about Howard Hughes.


Movie Review: Inferno

Having thoroughly enjoyed the movies based on Dan Brown’s international blockbusters, The DaVinci Code and Angels and Demons, I looked forward to seeing his latest thriller, Inferno, brought to life on the big screen.

Unfortunately, I was less than thrilled with this latest installment.

I did appreciate the cinematic appeal of Tom Hanks as he slipped back into the role of symbologist Robert Langdon for the third time. And the story line did appear promising: Robert Langdon grapples with puzzles and riddles as he battles chilling adversaries. If Langdon fails, a lethal virus could be unleashed upon half the world’s population.

What went wrong?

Too many tangled threads and close chases as Langdon and his sidekick Sienna Brooks (played by Felicity Jones) follow a trail of clues that take them from Florence to Venice to Istanbul. In spite of the confusion and repetition, I did enjoy the attractive backdrops.

When the climax is finally reached in Turkey, the story line picks up and all the threads are neatly sewn up, perhaps a bit too neatly. I would have liked more details and more time devoted to Langdon’s relationship with a former love interest (Sidse Babett Knudsen).

My advice: Read the book first and consider waiting for the DVD release.

BTW…I recall reading The DaVinci Code and Angels and Demons before seeing the movies.


Top 10 Fav Noir Films!

I’m happy to welcome award-winning Canadian author M.H. Callway to my blog. Today, Madeleine shares her favorite Noir Films and her books.

Here’s Madeleine!

I’m a visual writer. I fell in love with the movies at age three. As a teenager, I fell under the spell of noir cinema: tough settings criss-crossed with black shadows, peopled with sinners doing horrible things to each other – what was not to love?

So in honour of Noir at the Bar (Bouchercon 2016), here are my Top 10 Fav Noir Films. Most centre on strong, complex female characters. Their striking settings are often surreal and have stayed in my mind forever. The characters get justice even if that justice is harsh and twisted. And almost all feature devastating endings with a darkly satiric edge.

So here’s my list. I’d love to hear from you about your 10 Fav Film Noirs.

blood-simple10. BLOOD SIMPLE (Joel & Ethan Coen) – The debut film of the Coen brothers who developed the story from Dashiel Hammett’s phrase “blood simple” meaning crazed by violence.

An unpleasant man hires a shady PI to murder his wife and her lover. Things naturally go awry with a literally harrowing murder scene that rivals the death of Rasputin. One of the best exit lines ever, delivered by veteran character actor, M. Emmet Walsh whose performance oozes sleaze.

lady-from-shanghai9. LADY FROM SHANGHAI (Orson Welles) – Orson Welles ran out of money trying to stage a musical version of Around the World in 80 Days. He allegedly pitched The Lady from Shanghai to Columbia Pictures president Harry Cohn while looking at the cover of a pulp novel he’d never read. It’s a “who’s gonna kill who” thriller with adult dialogue sparked with sharp-edged barbs.

Welles invented the final shoot-out in a fun house of mirrors, a sequence that’s become standard in action and horror films. Nearly 70 years later, Welles’s original remains the best.

sorry-wrong-number8. SORRY WRONG NUMBER (Anton Litvak) – A spoiled, bed-ridden heiress overhears a murder plot on her telephone. Through a series of phone conversations with strangers and her unhappy husband, she realizes the thugs are about to murder her.

Based on a radio play by Lucille Fletcher, the film works because of its unusual plot structure and a terrific performance by Barbara Stanwyck as the woman you love to hate.

A devastatingly satisfying one-line ending: “Sorry, wrong number.”

mildred-pierce7. MILDRED PIERCE (Michael Curtiz) – Based on the novel by master noir writer, James M. Cain. The film depicts the rise and fall of businesswoman, Mildred Pierce (Joan Crawford).

Abandoned by her husband, Mildred battles poverty and terrible grief to support her family. Against all odds, she becomes rich, but her insatiable drive to join high society ends up destroying what she fought so hard to save: her family. A remarkable film even in 2016, because the tragic hero is a woman rather than a man.

vertigo6. VERTIGO (Alfred Hitchcock) – A masterpiece mystery thriller that shows how a grippingly profound story can be created with a minimum of characters. The film explores the destructive power of self-delusion and mental illness at a visceral level.

A law officer develops vertigo after a nearly fatal fall. His phobia makes him the victim of a diabolical plot. James Stewart is at his best as the unsympathetic hero: even Hitchcock’s heavily artificial camera work, invented to mimic vertigo, does the job. One of the best and most devastating movie endings of all time!

the-third-man5. THE THIRD MAN (Carol Reed) A thriller filmed on location in the rubble of post-WWII Vienna. It goes beyond genre in examining business corruption, betrayal and the tragedy of misplaced loyalty.

Holly Martins (Joseph Cotton), a broke pulp fiction writer, travels to Vienna to meet his old friend, Harry Lime, who’s promised him a job. But he arrives to find that Lime has been killed in a hit and run car accident and is wanted by the police. Looking for answers, Martins uncovers some nasty truths about Lime.

Despite being on screen for only a short time, Orson Welles is the perfect Moriarty, intellectually brilliant, articulate, urbane and utterly indifferent to his friends. The final chase through the sewers of Vienna is pure noir, the unromantic ending logical. When visiting Vienna, do check out the Third Man Walking Tour.

fargo4. FARGO (Joel & Ethan Coen) A police thriller where the misery of a North Dakota winter and the mundanity of Midwest culture work as well as the mean streets of noir.

A beleaguered car salesman (William Macy) conspires with a pair of criminals to kidnap his wife for money and to get revenge on his rich father-in-law. Naturally things go pear-shaped, partly due to the dogged investigation by the local – and heavily pregnant- police chief (Frances McDormand).

Some really macabre scenes – we all know what’s gonna happen with that wood chipper – and lots of dark humour. Who can forget Carl Showalter (Steve Buscemi) burying the ransom money in the endless snow along the highway then marking the spot with a tiny ice scraper? Ordinary folks and petty criminals alike die because they’re not equipped to deal with true evil, as portrayed by Danish Shakespearean actor, Peter Stormare. For once good triumphs over evil…sort of.

the-asphalt-jungle3. THE ASPHALT JUNGLE (John Huston) The heist film that spawned the caper sub-genre. Classic noir: tough criminal characters, mean streets, desperate motivations, greed and corruption.

Four criminals and a corrupt lawyer conspire to rob a fortune in jewels, but are undone by mutual treachery and unforeseen hitches in their plan. Great performances by Sterling Hayden and Sam Jaffe. Interestingly, the film features the debut of Marilyn Monroe as the elderly lawyer’s young mistress. At the time, she wasn’t big enough to be on the movie poster!

touch-of-evil2. TOUCH OF EVIL (Orson Welles) Tough choice between my top two favs: they’re really a tie.

I first saw Touch of Evil on late night TV. Deemed weird and disturbing at the time, I secretly loved it and still do. Seeing it now, I believe that the film was too truthful for the time because of its candid portrayal of police corruption and violence. Today it’s listed as one of the best films of the 20th century.

In the story, two people are killed when a car bomb goes off at a border crossing between the USA and Mexico. The veteran American cop, Hank Quinlan (Orson Welles), wants a quick solution and plants evidence to frame the most likely suspect, a Mexican citizen. Vargas, the Mexican detective (Charleton Heston), stands up to Quinlan with blowback that nearly kills him and his American wife, Susie (Janet Leigh).

Classic noir: mean streets, corruption, nasty characters, drugs, illicit sex, but much, much more. The film foreshadows tech noir: the final confrontation between Quinlan and Vargas takes place in a decayed industrial setting. It’s brutally frank about the bullying nature of American-Mexican relations, the corruption of male cronyism and women’s vulnerability in a patriarchal society. Some neat touches: Mercedes McCambridge plays a frankly lesbian hoodlum. For readers who don’t know her, McCambridge was the voice of the demon in The Exorcist.

Orson Welles is amazing as bloated, uber-corrupt, sixtyish Hank Quinlan; impossible to believe that he was only 43 at the time. Incredible, surreal scenes between him and Marlene Dietrich as his former mistress and the owner of a Mexican bordello. The single 3-minute tracking shot at the start of the film, that follows the convertible with the ticking time bomb, made cinematic history.

sunset-boulevard1. SUNSET BOULEVARD (Billy Wilder) Not just my favorite film noir, but one of my all-time favs period. In the story, a broke screen writer, Joe Gillis (William Holden) is trying escape the repo men. He hides out on the grounds of a mysterious Hollywood mansion inhabited by a forgotten star of the silent movies, Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson). Determined to make a comeback, Norma hires Gillis to rewrite her awful screenplay. Gillis figures it’s easy money, so he agrees, but gradually he becomes Norma’s boy-toy. When he decides to escape, well, guess what happens.

Like all great films, Sunset Boulevard is much more than its gripping story. It’s about the tragedy of vanity and delusion – and the price paid by enablers. It’s also about the cost of refusing to accept change and abandoning your self-worth for easy money.

Gloria Swanson gives a legendary performance as Norma Desmond as does Erich von Stronheim portraying Max, her ex-husband who works as her butler. (Sick or what?) Wonderful gothic sets. Who can forget the image of the dead chimpanzee’s funeral or the rats in the dry swimming pool?

Billy Wilder broke several Hollywood conventions: many celebrities played themselves ( Buster Keaton, Cecil B. DeMille) and the narrator is a dead man. Truly one of the most haunting and satisfying endings in the movies when Norma walks into the camera for her close-up.

Books

glowgrassGLOW GRASS and OTHER TALES – COMING FALL, 2016

My latest book contains nine noir and dark comedy stories. It includes the Arthur Ellis novella finalist, Glow Grass, Bony Pete winner, “The Lizard” and Derringer runner-up, “The Ultimate Mystery”. The Kindle and print editions will be available on Amazon this week. The print edition will be on sale at selected bookstores in November, 2016.

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windigofireWINDIGO FIRE – SERAPHIM EDITIONS, SEPTEMBER 2014

A critically acclaimed thriller, Windigo Fire, was a finalist for the Arthur Ellis Best First Novel Award and a Huffington Post Book for Book Clubs Selection.

Danny Bluestone, a young native Canadian, overeducated and underemployed, has holed up in his hometown of Red Dog Lake in Northern Ontario. Fighting boredom while working as a camp counsellor at a children’s camp, he plays the role of native guide for an illegal bear hunt, organized by Santa, a shady Australian who runs the local highway attraction, Santa’s Fish Camp. He flies out to a remote hunting camp in the bush and wakes up to find all the hunters murdered, all but one, an enigmatic American. The two must team up to survive the wilderness, the killers and the Windigo, a spirit evil unleashed by the killing of the bear.

This book is the first in a series featuring Danny Bluestone and the many characters in Red Dog Lake where the favorite pastime is karaoke strip night!

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Bio

madeleine-2M. H. Callway is a writer to watch – Margaret Cannon, Crime Fiction Reviewer, The Globe and Mail

M. H. Callway is an award-winning crime fiction writer. Her critically acclaimed debut novel, Windigo Fire (Seraphim Editions) was a finalist for the 2015 Arthur Ellis Best First Novel Award.

Madeleine’s short stories have been published in several anthologies and magazines. Many have won or been short-listed for major awards such as the Derringer and the Bony Pete. In 2016, her novella, Glow Grass, was a finalist for the Arthur Ellis Award.

Madeleine blogs regularly on her website about street art and weird encounters (Surreal Trapdoor), books and bookstores (Eat this Book) and wonderful people in her life (Cyber Café). Visit her at http://www.mhcallway.com.

In 2013, she founded the Mesdames of Mayhem, a group of 15 established Canadian women crime writers. Readers can enjoy their stories in the anthologies: Thirteen, 13 O’clock and 13 Claws. Visit the Mesdames at http://www.mesdamesofmayhem.com

Madeleine is a longstanding member of Crime Writers of Canada and Sisters in Crime. An avid cyclist, runner and downhill skier, she has participated in the Toronto Ride to Conquer Cancer every year since 2008. She and her husband share their Victorian home with a spoiled cat.

Where to find M.H. Callway…

Website | Facebook | Twitter



Movie Review: Snowden

Hero or dissident. Whistleblower or evil hacker. Patriot or traitor. These are some of the labels tossed about whenever Edward Snowden’s name is mentioned. And the conversation rarely stops there: Snowden’s disclosures have fueled numerous debates over national security and information privacy.

Director Oliver Stone has taken Snowden’s side, but with a strong measure of restraint.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt delivers an excellent performance as the bespectacled computer wizard who has a sincere desire to serve his country. Levitt skillfully captures Snowden’s low voice, gestures, and mannerisms, breathing life into the motivations behind the startling decision that transformed a former soldier into a wanted man. Extroverted and liberally minded Lindsay Mills (girlfriend) portrayed by Shailene Woodley provides the perfect foil to Snowden’s daily brooding and growing paranoia over government secrets at an NSA facility.

I wondered about Snowden’s parents and siblings. While there are brief references to government and military careers, the family of origin is not represented. Instead, two “father figures” emerge: Corbin O’Brian (Rhys Ifans) appears as Snowden’s boss and mentor, and Nicolas Cage portrays a renegade instructor.

This gripping docudrama contains real news footage and clips from President Obama, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and CNN.

Disturbing…thought-provoking…unsettling…The movie evoked many feelings, some not so comfortable, but I don’t regret seeing it. I needed to shake up my zebra thinking!



Movie Review: Sully

Simply riveting.

From start to finish, I sat spellbound, eyes glued to the screen, while Tom Hanks delivers an Oscar-worthy performance as Captain (Sully) Sullenberger.

A true American hero loved and admired by all, Sully faces unexpected turbulence when an internal investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board threatens to undermine his judgment during the critical 208 seconds after the bird attack and his 40-year-old career.

Hanks expertly captures the composure Sully demonstrated throughout the water landing and the PTSD that followed directly afterward. We see a man haunted by “What if” disaster dreams at night and, during the day, awkward media interactions and frustrating encounters with members of the investigating committee, who are determined to prove that Sully could have saved 155 people without risking a water landing and subsequently damaging the aircraft.

Aaron Eckhart adds humor and dry wit as First Officer Jeffrey Skiles. I would have liked to have seen more of Laura Linney (Sully’s wife). The telephone conversations were short, often abrupt, and didn’t reveal the depth of their relationship.

At 96 minutes, this film could be dismissed as a short interlude, but nothing is farther from the truth. Shot entirely in IMAX, each minute of high-resolution format provides the necessary sense of scale needed to depict the plane, the city, the river, and the ferries. Kudos to Clint Eastwood who continues to inspire and entertain us with his directorial savoir-faire.

A must-see film!


Movie Review: The Light Between Oceans

Having read the novel, I thought I’d be prepared for the the cruel destiny that awaited Isabel and Tom Sherbourne, magnificently portrayed by Alicia Vikander and Michael Fassbender. Instead, I found myself blinking back tears for most of the 133 minutes.

From the start, I felt for the decorated soldier who desperately wanted to escape memories of the Great War and isolate himself as a lighthouse keeper on a remote island off the coast of Western Australia. But he is not alone for too long. Beautiful and vivacious Isabel, who is recovering from the loss of two brothers, claims Tom’s heart and proposes marriage after a short courtship.

Their love is palpable but soon tested by two miscarriages and Isabel’s lingering grief. And then a miracle (or not) occurs: a rowing boat washes up with a dead man and a crying baby aboard.

Disciplined and morally upright Tom wants to report the event but eventually gives into Isabel’s pleas, and they pass the baby off as their own. The unexpected discovery of the birth mother (Rachel Weisz) disrupts their lives and their consciences.

Questions arise: To whom does the child belong? What happens when a woman is forced to choose between loyalty to spouse or child? Can a sin of omission be corrected or forgiven?

Bring lots of tissue and prepare yourself for an emotional roller coaster.


Top 10 Old Movies That Hold Up Today

I’m thrilled to welcome Canadian mystery author Judy Penz Sheluk to the Power of 10 series. Today, Judy shares her favorite movies and her new release, Skeletons in the Attic.

Here’s Judy!

judypenzsheluk2

I love movies, but the reality is that a lot of movies I once loved simply don’t hold up today. But this series is about the Power of 10, and so, without further ado, I’m going to list, in order of release date, 10 movies that pass the test of time.

1969: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Featuring a young Paul Newman and Robert Redford as Butch and Sundance, the two leaders of the Hole-in-the-Wall Gang. Butch is all ideas, Sundance is all action and skill. The west is becoming civilized and when Butch and Sundance rob a train once too often, a special posse begins trailing them no matter where they run. Oh…and Newman and Redford were smoking hot…

1973: The Way We Were. The story of Katie Morosky (Barbra Streisand) and author Hubbell Gardiner (Robert Redford) during the late 1930s to the late 1950s. A heartbreakingly beautiful love story that still makes me cry.

the Sting (2)1973: The Sting. Newman and Redford are back (and still hot)! When a mutual friend is killed by a mob boss, two con men, one experienced (Newman) and one young (Redford) try to get even by pulling off the big con on the mob boss. I can remember seeing this at the show on Christmas Day (release date) and the audience stood up and clapped at the end.

1975: One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) has a criminal past and has once again gotten himself into trouble and is sentenced by the court. To escape labor duties in prison, McMurphy pleads insanity and is sent to a ward for the mentally unstable. He rebels against an oppressive nurse (Louise Fletcher) and rallies up the scared patients (including a very young Danny DeVito). If you haven’t seen this, you must.

1976: A Star is Born. Talented rock star John Norman Howard (Kris Kristofferson) has seen his career begin to decline. Then he meets the innocent, pure and very talented singer Esther Hoffman. He shows Esther the way to stardom while forsaking his own career. As they fall in love, her success only makes his decline even more apparent. The fact that Kristofferson is drop dead gorgeous doesn’t hurt. [In fact, I patterned Levon Larroquette, a major character in The Hanged Man’s Noose, after Kris].

1987: Overboard. A cruel but beautiful heiress (Goldie Hawn) screws over a hired carpenter (Kurt Russell), who later is the first one to find her when she gets amnesia. Looking for a little revenge he convinces her that she’s his wife. One of the best endings ever. Love the macaroni necklace.

1989: When Harry Met Sally. Harry (Billy Crystal) and Sally (Meg Ryan) meet when she gives him a ride to New York after they both graduate from the University of Chicago. The film jumps through their lives as they both search for love, but fail, bumping into each other time and time again. The best New Year’s Eve movie EVER.

1990: Pretty Woman. Edward Lewis (Richard Gere) in a legal but hurtful business needs an escort for some social events, and hires a Vivian Ward (Julia Roberts), a beautiful prostitute … only to fall in love. Love the shopping scene on Rodeo Drive.

1996: Primal Fear. An altar boy (Edward Norton) is accused of murdering a priest, and the truth is buried several layers deep. Richard Gere stars as the lawyer defending him. Norton was nominated for Best Supporting Actor (and should have won).

1996: The First Wives Club. Reunited by the death of a college friend (Stockard Channing), three divorced women (Goldie Hawn, Diane Keaton, Bette Midler) seek revenge on the husbands who left them for younger women. My go-to movie when I’m feeling down. It always makes me laugh out loud.

What each of these movies has in common are characters we want to believe in, and a story that allows us to suspend disbelief for the time we invest in it.

That’s my goal, as an author, whether I’m writing a short story or a novel. Here’s a bit about my most recent release, Skeletons in the Attic: A Marketville Mystery. Hello Hollywood, are you reading this???

Skeletons in the Attic Front Cover (2)

Blurb

What goes on behind closed doors doesn’t always stay there…

Calamity (Callie) Barnstable isn’t surprised to learn she’s the sole beneficiary of her late father’s estate, though she is shocked to discover she has inherited a house in the town of Marketville—a house she didn’t know existed. However, there are conditions attached to Callie’s inheritance: she must move to Marketville, live in the house, and solve her mother’s murder.

Callie’s not keen on dredging up a thirty-year-old mystery, but if she doesn’t do it, there’s a scheming psychic named Misty Rivers who is more than happy to expose the Barnstable family secrets. Determined to thwart Misty and fulfill her father’s wishes, Callie accepts the challenge. But is she ready to face the skeletons hidden in the attic?

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Bio

Judy Penz Sheluk’s debut mystery novel, The Hanged Man’s Noose, was published in July 2015. Skeletons in the Attic, the first book in her Marketville Mystery Series, was published August 2016. Sequels are planned for both series in 2017.

Judy’s short crime fiction appears in World Enough and Crime, The Whole She-Bang 2, Flash and Bang and Live Free or Tri.

Judy is a member of Sisters in Crime, Crime Writers of Canada, International Thriller Writers, and the Short Mystery Fiction Society.

Find Judy on her website/blog at http://www.judypenzsheluk.com, where she interviews other authors and blogs about the writing life.